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Local Bikes to Travel to Colombia

July 24, 2002

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Paul Murphy met the regional representative for Pedals for Progress at an unrelated event near Charlottesville seven years ago and was intrigued by the legend on his t-shirt. He inquired about Pedals for Progress and, once informed of the organization's goals and methods, thought the whole enterprise sounded "really neat." Seven years later the Herndon Friends' annual bike collection has become one of the largest in the country.

Pedals for Progress collects used bicycles and then sends them to developing countries, where residents use them to get to work, obtain services, and meet other needs. The Herndon Friends held their annual bike collection on Sunday afternoon.

"IT MADE SENSE to us as a church organization; we're very interested in promoting the habit of involvement," Murphy said.

The collection took place at the Herndon Meeting House at the corner of Spring and Locust streets in Herndon. With a project like this, Murphy said, "the Herndon Friends can leverage limited resources to great advantage;" there are only 30-40 families in the Meeting, and working with Pedals for Progress allows them to help out on a larger scale, with the aid of the community, than they might otherwise be able to. Volunteers were there collecting and repairing bikes, taking donations, and selling food.

Taylor and Aubrey Stanton, Owen Allen, Daniel Murphy, and Becky Glazer staffed a bake sale table in front of the meeting house. They sold goods baked or donated by the meeting house and devoted 60 percent of the profits to Pedals for Progress. The other 40 percent was earmarked for Ron, a boy from the Philippines whom they've been sponsoring and corresponding with for two years now. Ron needs $12 per month; the bake sale had already netted $50 with two hours left to go, and the youngsters were optimistic about future sales. "I can't wait for them to get out of church so they can come buy stuff," Taylor said, pointing across the street at the Community Christian Church.

THIS YEAR, THE BIKES collected in Herndon are going to a town called Ibague in central Colombia. A group of ex-offenders there, in partnership with local foundation Horizons of Liberty, has started a bike messenger service, but needs more bicycles in order to expand its operations. These bikes will go to support the growth of the messenger service, and in the process will help to reduce the local criminal recidivism rate by providing jobs.

Chris Mitchell of Reston was there with her daughter to donate an unwanted bicycle. "I didn't want to just take it to the dump," she said. Her bike was collected, checked out, and placed with the other bicycles already donated, piled neatly around a tree behind the meeting house.

The Herndon collection is aiming for 200 bikes this year. At 1 p.m. they had 100, 60 of which were donated by the Herndon police. For the last few years, their collections have brought in about 100 bikes each, although their 2001 collection was unusually large at 250.

IN 2001, Pedals for Progress' total bike shipment was 9,174, and in past years the program has donated bikes to locations in Senegal, Eritrea, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Mozambique, Peru, Haiti, and Nicaragua, among others. Murphy is especially excited about donating to Ibague because of the criminal situation in Colombia. "These are convicts who ran drugs, guerrillas going legit," he said.

A bike is a lasting resource, he said, unlike a can of soup, which is consumed and then gone. Recipients can use their bicycles to deliver medicine to remote areas, to start businesses, and for transport. Some people weld additional parts to the frames: stoves, for food sales; baskets, for tools and supplies. The value of the bike is limited only by the creativity of the owner.

The benefits that bike donors can feel at home are important, as well; besides creating a general feeling of well-being, donating a bike helps foster good international relations and reduce the drug-related activity in Colombia and therefore in the United States. These bikes could be going to landfills, increasing the tax burden and wasting perfectly good vehicles. Instead, they're being put to good use by people who need them. "Progress is incremental, but every increment is important," Murphy said. "This is a practical and easy contribution for Herndon residents to make."